Indie developers are great, they are often so approachable and friendly. The games they make are part of the sea change that is sweeping through the industry. The old AA game space all has been all but obliterated and indie titles are taking up the mantle with growing support from the big boys, especially Sony as Shahid Ahmad talked about on day two of the Expo. I didn’t get to spend as much time in the indie section during my time at the Expo as I would have liked, but there were a few gems down there.
On my first day at the show I arrived mid-afternoon and Earl’s Court was heaving with visitors, and I was frankly overwhelmed at first. I knew from previously looking at the floor plan where the indie section was, so I set off thinking it would be quieter around there. Thanks to the move of the 18+ section upstairs, the indie area had a lot more room than in previous years and when I got there at first it was fairly quiet, but still very busy. I made my over to the Democracy 3 and Redshirt stands where I knew Cliff Harris would be patiently standing and showing off his political simulator.
Having talked to Cliff at Rezzed back in the summer I approached him when he was between talking to punters and started to catch up. After introducing me to Mitu who has been making Redshirt (sadly I didn’t meet Mitu at Rezzed), Cliff and I went to Pizza Express. £10.20 later we talked about the economics of indies attending shows like Rezzed and Eurogamer along with advertising costs on large gaming websites. It might not have been an interview, but it was great to catch up with Cliff and listen to him and Mitu plan for the London Comic-Con where she was going to be showing off Redshirt.
Having already played and previewed both Democracy and Redshirt, I felt I would be depriving other people of the opportunity to check out these cool games if I played them at the show. It was encouraging to see a variety of age groups getting involved, especially with younger kids making their presence felt and taking part. They might not really understand the political mechanics behind Democracy, but it was pleasing to see kids giving it a go.
This was a trend that would appear to me later in the show as well. Opposite the Democracy and Redshirt booth was a large set up for Prison Architect. I had seen the guys from Introversion talking about the game at the show last year and decided to take a quick look at how things were progressing with the game since I played the Alpha earlier in the year.
It really has come a long way, the interface is much improved and in no time at all I had started building a small prison with one cell block, a dining area and an exercise yard. I might have made a mistake by not using the planning option as I quickly found myself short on cash with the first prisoners only a few hours away from arrival.
It was at this point that I noticed a couple of youngsters with their dad standing behind me and talking excitedly about the prospect of building a prison. I looked deep into my soul and thought about what was best. Carry on playing myself, or let some new gamers have a chance to test out an exciting indie game.
Realising that I could just as easily play the regularly updated Alpha at home, I stood up and let the youngsters take charge. I just hope that I hadn’t ruined things too much before they got to play.
There was one game that I had been eager to play, Sir You are Being Hunted. I spotted one or two of the developers walking around in their tweed hunting jackets, but for all my walking I didn’t see the game at all. Maybe there was a hidden section of more indie games that I entirely missed. Who knows?
I also spent quite some time watching people play Montague’s Mount. Again, this was something I had originally played at Rezzed so didn’t especially need to play again. I can wait and avoid ruining the experience until it is released, but it was good to watch people playing what is a very stylish, though admittedly Dear Esther-esque game. Indeed, the developer was lucky enough to be showing the game off on two machines, one was a normal PC set up, the other was Oculus Rift based. Needless to say, as the weekend went on the queues seemed to get bigger and bigger for the Oculus version of the game. I’m not sure how well it would translate to the VR headset with the muted colour scheme, but it was definitely very popular.
There were numerous other games in the main indie area that I should have played, but just didn’t get around to. Titles like Volume, Masters of the Overworld and Luftrausers looked quite interesting.
The tunnel that is the indie arcade was as manic as it always seems to be whenever I see it, whether it was last year at the Expo or at Rezzed earlier this year. There are always some gems hidden away in it and two titles caught my eye this year.
The first one I played, at the tail end of a long, long Saturday at the show was I Fight Bears, a game coming out later this month for iOS and Android devices with a PC release coming soon. It is a quirky and highly entertaining riff on the extravagant internet memes surrounding Chuck Norris.
You take control of a bearded woodsman who has suffered some time-shifting event which leads to an influx of aggressive deer in his wood. Biff! Pow! Whack! You fight off the deer hoards while walking past wooden signs proclaiming the awesome powers of your character. Suddenly..BEAR FIGHT! To a funky soundtrack you fight past a bear and walk ito Bearhatten. This is where I managed to break the game getting my Chuck-a-like stuck on the far end of the screen. A great shame, but the developers were pleased to see me enjoying myself and I was pleased to have played their game.
As I walked through the hordes within the Indie Arcade I noticed someone leave a stool and I quickly jumped into place. This game was Chroma of which I instantly asked the developer ‘What is the premise of this then?’ to which he cooly replied ‘Just play it, I would ruin it otherwise…’
Play I did. You take your cute little character across a wilderness until you find a hole to jump down into a network of tunnels. This is where things start to happen, your character is a beacon of light letting you see where you are going in the strange tunnel system. Being a source of light though, he creates shadows which flicker off the walls in the tunnels. When you come across an obstacle you can’t jump upon, you switch to your alter-ego, a dark shadow like version of yourself. This dark version walks around as the light stays put in the place you switched characters. He can climb the shadows given off the by light until you reach a point where the light illuminates your path no further. At this point you switch back with your light body moving into the place where your shadow version had reached. I’ve probably explained that really poorly, but the interaction between light and shadows is very unique and poses quite a challenge, especially when you reach parts of the tunnels with switches to operate.
As I got to the end of the demo level, some spooky graffiti appeared on the wall warning of horrors ahead in the tunnels. I was enthralled and am looking forward to more of this.
That was the last of the indie games (not counting Vita titles which I talked about here) I played at the Expo. Not nearly enough, as when I bumped into Lewis Denby in a pub-based get together he mentioned that he hadn’t seen me at all around the indie games. A shame indeed that I didn’t play more of the games on show, but what I played and the number of youngsters playing filled me with confidence that there are still many more great titles to come over the coming months.